After the Nazis started a ruthless takeover of their erstwhile ally in October 1943, German forces hung six Italian citizens on a mountainside in southern Italy as collective punishment for the shooting of a soldier searching for food.
Some of the relatives of the men executed at Fornelli are now ready to get a part of 12 million euros ($13 million) granted by an Italian court as compensation for their families’ misery eighty years later.
“We still mark the event every year. It hasn’t been forgotten,” said Mauro Petrarca, the great-grandson of one of those killed, Domenico Lancellotta, a 52-year-old Roman Catholic father of five daughters and a son.
All but one of the family members alive at the time of the killings are now dead, but under Italian law, damages owed to them can still be passed on to their heirs. This means Petrarca is set to receive around 130,000 euros ($142,000) under the terms of a 2020 court ruling.
In an ironic twist, it will be Italy rather than Germany that pays up, after it lost a battle in the International Court of Justice over whether Berlin could still be liable for damages tied to World War Two crimes and atrocities.
Jewish organizations in Italy believe Berlin should be paying to acknowledge their historical responsibility. But victims’ groups also fear Rome is dragging its feet in dealing with a deluge of claims that could weigh on state accounts.
“This is a very tormented issue, both from a political and a legal perspective,” said Giulio Disegni, the vice president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), which has been following the issue on behalf of Jewish victims of Nazi horrors.
A study funded by the German government and published in 2016 estimated that 22,000 Italians were victims of Nazi war crimes, including up to 8,000 Jews deported to death camps. Thousands more Italians were forced to work as enslaved labourers in Germany, making them eligible for reparations.
The first people likely to benefit from the new government fund set up to deal with claims are descendants of the six Catholic Fornelli men, who were hanged as German soldiers played music on a gramophone stolen from a nearby house.
Their killing came a month after Italy had signed an armistice with the Allied forces, ending its participation in World War Two and abandoning the Nazis, who immediately started their occupation of the country.